Brendan Guhle

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Capitals’ Hathaway ejected for spitting on Ducks’ Gudbranson

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(UPDATE: Hathaway has been suspended three games.)

WASHINGTON — Just as combatants were being separated in the aftermath of a heated brawl, Erik Gudbranson gave Garnet Hathaway another punch and received something he didn’t expect in return.

Hathaway spit on him and was thrown out of a feisty matchup Monday night he and the Washington Capitals won 5-2 against Gudbranson and the Anaheim Ducks. Hathaway said he regretted the loogie that could spark further punishment from the NHL in the form of a fine or suspension, and the Ducks were spitting mad about the entire incident.

“That’s about as low as you dig a pit, really,” Gudbranson said. “It’s a bad thing to do. It’s something you just don’t do in a game, and he did it.”

Hathaway was given a match penalty for spitting in the latter stages of the fracas late in the second period. Gudbranson got a 10-minute misconduct, Anaheim’s Nick Ritchie was also ejected for being the third man into a fight and a total of 50 penalty minutes were doled out.

“These games can get physical and they can get nasty,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said. “These guys’ll throw down, drop their gloves, that stuff goes on in the game, but what I saw there I haven’t seen – I think I’ve been in pro hockey 30 years maybe – and I’ve never seen that before. It’s just something you don’t see in the game.”

After some off-and-on hostilities in the first 39 minutes, Washington’s Brendan Leipsic incited the brawl by bulldozing Anaheim’s Derek Grant just before Chandler Stephenson scored to make it 3-0 Capitals with 33.4 seconds remaining in the second. Almost all 10 skaters on the ice got involved, and Hathaway fought Gudbranson, Grant and Ritchie in a matter of minutes.

Officials were attempting to separate players when Gudbranson rabbit-punched Hathaway, who then spit in his face with referee Peter MacDougall a few feet away. Officials checked the video before confirming a five-minute match penalty and game misconduct on Hathaway for spitting, which carries an automatic ejection.

“Unfortunately, spit came out of my mouth after I got sucker punched and it went onto him,” Hathaway said. “It has no place. It was an emotional play by me. You don’t plan any of that stuff in your head, and it was a quick reaction and unfortunately the wrong one for me to a sucker punch.”

Ducks defenseman Brendan Guhle had been agitating much of the night, almost dropping the gloves with Tom Wilson and tripping up Leipsic in various incidents. It all paved the way for the brawl.

“It just escalated,” Guhle said. “It for sure was in the works. There were scrums all night. Guys were going after each other. That’s how it goes sometimes.”

The fighting and Hathaway spitting overshadowed the NHL-leading Capitals winning their second in a row and picking up at least one point for the 14th time in 15 games. Alex Ovechkin scored his 254th career power-play goal, Richard Panik, Stephenson and Jakub Vrana also scored, Wilson sealed it with an empty netter and Braden Holtby made 32 saves for Washington.

“He’s tremendous,” Ovechkin said of Holtby. “He’s working hard. Of course, everybody has ups and down, but his game right now is definitely up.”

Ducks goaltender John Gibson made several spectacular saves to keep his team in the game. Gibson stopped 26 of the 30 shots he faced, losing for the 10th time in 17 starts despite third-period goals from Sam Steel and Nicolas Deslauriers.

“We need him,” Eakins said. “We’re a team in transition.”

Anaheim is also an angry team after seeing Hathaway spit on Gudbranson.

“At the end of the day, it’s probably the least respectful thing you can ever do to somebody,” Grant said. “We’re all competing out there and sometimes the game gets that way. As a group, I thought we did a good job sticking up for each other. That’s a tough one to swallow.”

Ducks hope to rebuild on fly, return to playoff contention

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — After the Anaheim Ducks’ six-year playoff run ended with a resounding thud last spring, they added almost no significant outside talent to their roster.

If the Ducks hope to return to their usual heights this season, they’ll probably have to do it from within. That migration starts behind the bench, where coach Dallas Eakins is moving up from their AHL affiliate in San Diego to the big leagues.

The former Edmonton coach proved his acumen over the last four years while guiding many young players who will get prominent roles this season in Anaheim. Even after last season’s faceplant, the Ducks’ organizational depth is enviable, and they’re counting on new blood to refresh the veteran core of this longtime Stanley Cup contender.

”You can already see it and feel it around the room that guys are ready to go, and guys are ready to turn that page,” said forward Adam Henrique, a rare offensive bright spot last season. ”(Eakins) is great. It’s a lot of fun coming to the rink. He’s here to work.”

So are the youngsters gunning for major roles in Anaheim: Forwards Sam Steel, Max Jones, Troy Terry and Max Comtois are all 21 or younger. The Ducks need scoring after finishing last in the league in goals, and Eakins believes he has already coached the players who can help.

”This has always been an organization that’s hard to score against, and we don’t want to lose that,” Eakins said. ”We want that to be our identity. But if we don’t score, we can’t win, either. I’m a big believer that you can teach people how to score. It’s all about possession. We were near the bottom on shots last year, but telling players, ‘Hey, we need to shoot the puck more,’ is probably not a good plan. You’ve got to have the puck first.”

Anaheim is moving into the future after a bittersweet severing of its past. An era ended last June when the Ducks bought out Corey Perry‘s contract, ending his 14-year tenure alongside captain Ryan Getzlaf in parallel careers that started when the Ducks were still Mighty.

Perry scored just six goals in 31 games last year, but he was far from the only problem. Ryan Kesler will miss the upcoming season after struggling to return from major hip problems, and his career could be over even though he’s only halfway through his six-year, $41.5 million contract.

What’s more, a blue line that was once flush with elite homegrown talent is hoping for strong seasons from recently acquired defensemen Brendan Guhle, Michael Del Zotto or Chris Wideman.

But optimism currently runs high for the Ducks, who moved into a gorgeous new training complex in Irvine during the offseason.

Anaheim also has no problems in net. John Gibson is coming off another outstanding season despite his team’s woes, proving the Ducks were wise to lock him into a long-term contract, while they persuaded 39-year-old Ryan Miller to return as Gibson’s backup.

WHO’S HERE: Eakins, D Chris Wideman, D Michael Del Zotto, LW Nicolas Deslauriers.

WHO’S NOT: Perry, D Jaycob Megna, D Andy Welinski, C Ben Street, D Jake Dotchin.

KEY PLAYERS: Getzlaf’s connection with Eakins will be a key, and the captain appears to be completely on board. The Ducks badly need a bounce-back season from Rickard Rakell, who slipped from 67 goals over the previous two seasons to just 18 last year. Daniel Sprong, 22, is a candidate for a breakthrough after showing ample promise while scoring 14 goals last year. And with trade rumors finally dying down around Ondrej Kase, the Czech forward is positioned to build on the tantalizing promise he showed in 2017-18 before injuries largely ruined last season.

OUTLOOK: Anaheim has plenty of intriguing talent at all ages and experience levels. Eakins was considered a can’t-miss future star behind the bench when he took over the Oilers in 2013. If he proves to be a true difference-maker in his second shot at the NHL, the results should show up immediately.

PREDICTION: The Ducks are coming off their longest offseason since 2012 after going 35-37-10, and they’ve made no significant additions except behind the bench. Eakins will attempt to get improved results out of largely the same players – but the Ducks have more talent than they showed in their 5-21-4 collapse midway through last season, when they quit on Randy Carlyle. While it’s easy to categorize this as a rebuilding year, Anaheim hasn’t missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 2002. These written-off Ducks can muster a top-four finish in the Pacific Division, and maybe more.

Previewing the 2019-20 Anaheim Ducks

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Worse. The Ducks have been competitive for over a decade, so it wasn’t surprising to see them take a step back last year. Unfortunately for Anaheim, their core is getting older and they really didn’t improve their roster very much over the course of the summer. They lost Corey Perry and some other depth players, but they didn’t add any significant pieces. They hired Dallas Eakins as their new head coach, but it’ll be tough for him to make a significant difference. It’s tough to argue that this group is better.

Strengths: Their biggest strength is between the pipes. John Gibson put together an incredible season last year. His numbers may not jump off the page but make no mistake, he was the reason they weren’t out of it earlier than they were. The 26-year-old had a 26-22-8 record with a 2.84 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage last season. If the Ducks are going to improve this season, they’ll need some of their kids like Troy Terry, Max Jones, Sam Steel, and Max Comtois to take steps forward and need their goalie to stand on his head on a nightly basis. Gibson is one of the top goalies in the league and that shouldn’t change in 2019-20.

Weaknesses: Their overall depth has taken a hit over the last few years. Sure, they still have good players like Ryan Getzlaf and Adam Henrique down the middle, and Rickard Rakell, Ondrej Kase and Jakob Silfverberg on the wings. They also have Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Cam Fowler on defense. The rest of the team has taken a bit of dip. Perry’s gone and Ryan Kesler is injured, and Patrick Eaves is likely retired. When you’ve been good for so long, these things will eventually happen.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): 1. Let’s give Eakins some time. He’ll have plenty of challenges ahead with the edition of the Ducks. It’ll be important for him to assess the talent at his disposal quickly and he’ll need to figure out a way to get the most out of this group of players. Again, success probably won’t come as early as this season, but if the Ducks allow him to shape the roster how he sees fit, they could make strides in the near future. How much time he gets to build this program remains to be seen, but he can’t be on the hot seat yet!

[MORE: Three Questions | Under Pressure: Getzlaf | X-Factor]

Three Most Fascinating Players: It’ll be interesting to see how some of the young players perform this season. Daniel Sprong, Nick Ritchie and Brendan Guhle should all be part of this roster when training camp ends. How much will they contribute though?

Sprong was acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. In 47 games with the Ducks, he put up 14 goals and 19 points, which isn’t terrible. Can he build on that season? We’ve mentioned that Anaheim’s depth may be a problem for them this year, so getting added contributions from talented youngsters like Sprong will be key. There’s no denying his ability on the ice, but the 22-year-old needs to put it all together now. 14 goals in 47 games works out to a 24-goal campaign over 82 contests. Can he flirt with 25 goals?

Ritchie is also a fascinating case. The 23-year-old was drafted 10th overall by the Ducks back in 2014, but he hasn’t had as big an impact as many expected him to since turning pro. Ritchie had nine goals and a career-high 31 points in 60 games in 2018-19. He needs to pick it up. He needs to lead the next waive of young players in the organization. He’s got size, he’s got skill and now he needs to make an impact on this Ducks roster. He can’t just be another depth player.

As for Guhle, he was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres last season. The former second-rounder played in just six games with Anaheim last season. The Ducks have Fowler, Manson and Lindholm on their blue line, but there are openings behind those three players. Guhle has to show that he’s capable of making this roster and eating up some important minutes for Anaheim this season. The 22-year-old needs to add stability to the Ducks on the back end.

Playoffs or Lottery: They’ll be in the lottery this year. Again, they have some talented players, but they don’t have enough of them. It’ll take some time for them to draft and develop the next generation of Ducks, but that re-tooling had to begin eventually. No playoffs for the Ducks this year.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Ducks face questions on scoresheet, blue line, behind bench

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Anaheim Ducks. 

Three questions for you to ponder regarding the 2019-20 Anaheim Ducks…

1. Who is going to score? 

This is not the sort of question any team wants to answer. But when you finish the season with an NHL-low 196 goals and with just one player scoring 20 or more, it’s a question that demands an answer for the Ducks.

To illustrate how bad an issue scoring was last season, consider that Ryan Getzlaf was the team’s leading scorer with 48 points. Only one team — the Arizona Coyotes — had a player who led the team with fewer points (Clayton Keller, 47). Jakub Silfverberg’s 24 goals led the team, the third-fewest in the NHL to lead a team behind the Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings.

You can safely assume that both all three of those teams missed the playoffs. Scoring, at the end of the day, is paramount, and the Ducks need a lot more of it this season if they are to compete and avoid franchise-record losing streaks.

Some of that could come in the form of a bounceback year for Rikard Rakell, who managed just 18 last year after hitting the 30-goal plateau in each of the previous two seasons.

But without any big-name scoring acquisitions this offseason, the team will be looking at some promising prospects to get the job done.

Sam Steel will be one of those guys. He could play as high as the team’s top-line centre, which should give him a couple of good wingers to play with. In 22 games last season — and on a very poor team — he scored six times and added five assists.

Troy Terry will be another. The winger saw 32 games with the Ducks last year, scoring four times on 25 shots and adding nine assists. There could contributions from Max Comtois and Isac Lundestrom as well, depending on how training camp battles play out.

What’s certain is someone needs to step up.

2. What impact will the arrival of Dallas Eakins have? 

Anaheim’s biggest move this offseason came at the position that stands behind all the players during the games.

Eakins will give it another go in his second stint as a head coach in the NHL after one and a half very poor seasons with the Edmonton Oilers in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

His coaching record in the NHL is 36-63-14, otherwise known as pretty abysmal. And now he’s been handed the keys to another bad team and is being told to make something out of nothing.

Eakins has run a winning machine in San Diego of the American Hockey League over the past four seasons and has overseen some of Anaheim’s next stars, which is a healthy boon.

[MORE DUCKS: X-Factor | Under Pressure: Getzlaf | 2018-19 Summary]

Eakins has promised that the guys he’s groomed — Steel, Lundestrom, Brendan Guhle, et al — will have to battle for spots in training camp, but given last year’s team and the lack of reinforcements this summer, they shouldn’t be particularly hard to win.

Eakins had a couple of good runs with the Toronto Marlies before the Oilers hired him, so his AHL success hasn’t translated in the big league as of yet.

He’s got a mountainous task in front of him once again.

3. Can a team devoid of team defense last season band together in the upcoming one? 

Here’s a common statement uttered by people around the NHL last season: “John Gibson needs some help.”

Gibson deserved to be on the ballot for the Vezina this season, and not just for a pity add for enduring the type of hanged-out-to-dry year that he did. Gibson rose above all that to post some ludicrous numbers despite the hand he was dealt in 2018-19.

But surely, as good as Gibson is, he can’t endure another round of it without showing some cracks in the armor.

It remains to be seen what kind of defensive system Eakins will deploy. In his only full season in Edmonton, the team gave up an NHL high 267 goals, including 204 at even-strength — also the most in the league that year.

One would think that a buy-in under Randy Carlyle’s old regime was a longshot given how poorly the season went. When Bob Murray took over in February, there wasn’t much to play for. Having Eakins there could re-invigorate the team with a new message and a new way to play.

That has to be the hope, for Gibson and the rest of the team.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

It’s Anaheim Ducks Day at PHT

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Anaheim Ducks. 

2018-19
35-37-10, 80 pts. (6th in the Pacific Division, 13th in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN
Nicolas Deslauriers
Michael Del Zotto
Anthony Stolarz

OUT
Corey Perry
Pontus Aberg
Adam Cracknell
Andrej Sustr
Chad Johnson
Jake Dotchin
Andy Welinski
Jaycob Megna

RE-SIGNED
Justin Kloos
Chase De Leo

HIRED
Head coach – Dallas Eakins

2018-19 SEASON SUMMARY

Hockey seasons don’t get much more disastrous as they did for the Ducks in 2018-19.

Even one of the best goalies in the NHL couldn’t stop the barrage of shots that came his way every night. With no defensive help to speak of, John Gibson was left to fend for himself on most nights. If there was one highlight of last season, it was his spectacular play at times, even in losses where his team gave up, it was Gibson who was putting in remarkable efforts only to be left in the shadows of another tick in the bad column.

It took until February for Bob Murray to finally pull the trigger on Randy Carlyle’s time as bench boss, a move that should have come much, much sooner.

Never had the Ducks gone on such a dismal stretch. A total of 21 games were played in the heart of the season and the Ducks managed just two wins, including a franchise-record 12-game losing streak following closely by a seven-game slump that mercifully ended with Carlyle’s firing.

The 12-game losing streak brought changes in the lineup as the Ducks tried to re-tool with the additions of Devin Shore, Derek Grant and Michael Del Zotto. Not superstars by any means, but when nothing is working, Murray had no choice by to throw a wrench into the room.

Of course, it didn’t work, with the subsequent seven-game losing streak as proof.

The Ducks ended the season with an NHL-low 196 goals, three fewer than the similarly abysmal Los Angeles Kings.

Goalscoring, of particular importance in the NHL, was simply non-existant on the roster. No player had over 25 and only one had over 20. No player hit the 50-point mark either, and only four had 40 points or more.

And Gibson felt the full brunt of the lackluster offense.

[MORE DUCKS: Three Questions | Under Pressure: Getzlaf | X-Factor]

Among starters, Gibson saw the seventh most shots against per 60 minutes and yet somehow still managed a .929 save percentage in five-on-five situations.

No goalie in the NHL saw more high-danger shots against per 60 and yet Gibson’s .852 save percentage when facing hockey’s toughest shots to save was fourth-best. This year’s Vezina Trophy winner, Andrei Vasilevskiy, by comparison, was a .815 or 17th best.

Gibson saw the third-most rush attempts against per 60 and the closest average shot distance. The list goes on and on.

Gibson should have been in the Vezina running and likely would have won it on any other team not nicknamed the Kings or Senators.

It looks like Gibson is going to have to play as good, if not better, this season if the Ducks are not to be embarrassed again.

Anaheim hasn’t done much to improve their lack of offense and Del Zotto isn’t going to rectify that atrocious team defense, either. Instead, they will look to the farm for help, hoping the development has been sound in AHL San Diego. They lost Corey Perry after the team bought out their former talisman and they will be without Ryan Kesler, who is likely to miss the entire season after hip surgery.

It’s up to Dallas Eakins now.

His second stint as an NHL head coach couldn’t come under harsher circumstances, but he’s familiar with the kids coming up, having served as coach of their AHL affiliate since 2015 .

The Ducks do have promising futures in Max Comtois and Sam Steel up front and Brendan Guhle on the back end. It’s tough to ask them to turn around Anaheim’s fortunes this season, however.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck